Despite finishing second to Independent candidate Michael Fitzmaurice in last weekend’s Roscommon/South Leitrim bye-election, Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin says Ivan Connaughton’s performance has put his party in good stead ahead of the 2016 General Election.
Speaking to reporters during a brisk visit to the Douglas Hyde Centre in Roscommon Town during last Saturday’s count, Martin said that although he was disappointed not to see Connaughton take the seat, he was encouraged by the high number of first preference votes his fellow party member received. “Ivan has undertaken a very strong and very energetic campaign”, he said. “Of course, from our point of view we would have preferred a higher first preference vote. But we are now looking at a very fragmented political landscape and for Ivan to poll so high is extremely encouraging.
“This result puts us in a very strong position to win a seat here in this constituency in the General Election with a lot of hard work between now and then.”
He continued: “You are looking at about four groupings now. Fine Gael, Fianna Fail. Sinn Fein and Independents are all hovering around twenty percent plus. That’s where we are now. The world has changed since 2011 and that election was a seismic change in itself. We are coming back in the sense that we are several percentage points up on our general election total.”
Having gone into the election as a favourite to take the Dáil seat vacated by Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, Connaughton topped the polls with 7,334 first preference votes. But despite the large amount of support, the Athleague native was pipped to the post by Glinsk man Fitzmaurice on transfers.
Asked if it was in essence, a loss for his party, Martin said that any notions that the Roscommon/South Leitrim seat was Fianna Fail’s to be won was nothing but media perception. “We did not have a seat to start with”, he argued. “I cannot understand people saying it was our seat to lose. It’s a perception in terms of commentary but it is not backed up by any evidence.”
When pressed on his future within the party, Mr Martin confirmed he will lead Fianna Fail into the 2016 General Election. “ Yes I’m leading the party into the general election, there is no question. I said in 2011 that I would build this party. Renew it and rebuild it and make it a significant player.”